Collaboration alert: Lauren Abramson and Peter Durand sketch out their time together

This past fall, Peter Durand’s graphic facilitation expertise was in full effect as he trained PopTech Social Innovation Fellows to more efficiently convey their organizations' missions.  He particularly struck a chord with Community Conferencing Center Founder and 2010 Social Innovation Fellow Lauren Abramson, who could see the potential value of his particular communication style in relation to her work with the Community Conference Center (CCC), a conflict transformation and community justice organization.  So, recently Abramson invited Durand to Baltimore to graphically record her organization’s 20-hour Facilitator Training.  What came out of their meeting was so much more than either could have anticipated. In a conversation between Abramson and Durand with PopTech sticking its nose in occasionally, we got a first-hand account.

PopTech: Lauren, what were your goals when you asked Peter to join you in Baltimore?

Lauren Abramson: The original goal was to have Peter do his wonderful graphic recording during our 20-hour Community Conferencing Facilitator Training. That way we would have some engaging artwork that documented the concepts we convey during the training.  We figured we could then use that artwork in our training manuals, our ongoing skill-building work, and possibly for a “Community Conferencing Guidebook” that I’m working on writing.


Another goal was to expose the CCC staff to Peter’s effective graphic recording and facilitation skills and style--and to provide them with some basic skills that they could use.

Last, I really hoped to expose other organizations in Baltimore to Peter’s work.  Graphic recording and facilitation is such an effective way to record and convey concepts, but not a lot of people know about it yet.  I figured it would be great to have more of our partners and more people in this city using this approach in their work.

PopTech: How did Peter help CCC meet those objectives?

LA: With regard to the graphic recording, Peter was such a gentle, thoughtful presence at our Facilitator Training Workshop. That helped the participants feel really comfortable with him being there and talking with him about what he was doing.  The actual drawings are fantastic, fun, and engaging.

It’s so true that a picture tells a thousand words.  It’s also true that the more we hear, write, and see ideas, the better we learn them (and that’s especially true for adult learning).  So Peter’s work made the teaching of Community Conferencing principles and facilitation skills a lot easier!

Our staff also had the benefit of a Graphic Facilitation Workshop from Peter.  So one thing I gotta say about all of us at the CCC: we all have a pretty good radar for “gimmicky” staff development.  This actually makes it interesting and challenging for me and the Deputy Director to come up with staff development workshops that our co-workers will enjoy and will use

Well… they loved Peter’s workshop.  We all not only had fun, but there were several “aha” moments for several of us. Many of us found ways to take “meeting notes” that both kept us engaged in the content and helped us organize the concepts at the same time.  This was especially true for my co-workers who are visual learners, and also for those who have challenges with paying attention.

Everyone also said they learned some really good techniques for facilitating meetings. I’ve already seen them put to use.

It’s so true that a picture tells a thousand words.  It’s also true that the more we hear, write, and see ideas, the better we learn them...

PopTech: Peter, how did you contribute?

Peter Durand: I had a great mentor whose philosophy was to go where he is invited. I met Lauren Abramson and John Cammack at the 2010 PopTech Social Innovation Fellows workshop. They saw what I did, and invited me to Baltimore. So, I contributed to my own enrichment by showing up!

These are two people thinking deeply about change. John likes to light fires and connect people and see what happens. Lauren is focused on understanding human conflict, suffering, shame, and a community response to finding solutions out of that mess.

Listening to Lauren describe human emotions and our innate instinct to express them from the moment we're born is engaging and illuminating. In our first conversations we talked about mindfulness as a path to understanding and peace. 

She's like the Dalai Lama, if he were, you know, a white chick who grew up in Detroit during the Era of Motown.

PopTech: Were there any specific instances where your graphic facilitation helped parse a particularly challenging issue or topic?

PD: I have a cartoon-generating brain that has to put googly eyes and cowboy boots on cerebral concepts in order for me to connect to them. 

The best service that the drawings can provide afterward is to hold up a mirror to the participants of a conversation. But unlike Shakespeare's mirror, this one is more like a funhouse mirror that renders everything in a comic style where R. Crumb meets Calvin and Hobbes.

Perhaps the drawings both humanize and demystify big ideas so people can laugh a little and the concepts can attach themselves more firmly. For me, personally, drawing is the only way I can listen and process what's going on.

She's like the Dalai Lama, if he were, you know, a white chick who grew up in Detroit during the Era of Motown.

PopTech: What came out of the collaboration that was unexpected?

LA: I was thrilled and somewhat surprised at how profoundly the Facilitator Training participants were engaged with and affected by the drawings that Peter did during the training.  People were coming up and looking at them throughout the 2 ½ days—and the drawings sparked a lot more conversation, questions, and deeper learning about the ideas and skills we were conveying.  

And a bonus was that we’re going to put together a small poster of some of Peter’s drawings and give them out at the end of our trainings along with the certificate.  That way, people will have an “official” certificate of completion and a poster with not only lovely art, but also with reminders about what this work is all about. 

PD: Lauren and John really curated my week in Baltimore, connected me with people from the education, corporate, and nonprofit spheres who all are wrestling with the same anaconda, namely: How the heck do we get our heads around massive, complex systems and make decisions about what to do next?

Graphically depicting stories and systems is just one tool available to help in that messy, messy process. The really fun part of teaching people is forcing them to play and not take their ideas and creations so seriously. I don't give them time to get stuck in the "Oh, But I'm Not An Artist" thing.

What was unexpected for me was the richness of Baltimore and all the pockets of fringe operators and edge innovators. When you are one of those people on the edge, it feels very lonely and daunting. But when you meet up with other fringe dwellers, and feed off the inspiration of seeing what they are doing... well, the seemingly impossible task before you appears manageable! 

That is the magic of the PopTech community. No matter what crazy scheme you could be up to, when you describe it to a PopTech-er, they usually say something like, "You really should connect with this person I know. Let me connect you!"

Images: Peter Durand/AlphaChimp and Lauren Abramson

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